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AARP members call for passage of bill to create utility consumer watchdog

Ashley Hirtzel

Western New York AARP members are calling on Senator Maziarz and other lawmakers to give utility customers a voice. AARP members held a meeting with local senior citizens Wednesday to discuss the importance of urging elected officials to act on a bill that would create an independent utility consumer advocate office.

Associate State Director of AARP for Western New York Bill Armbruster says after a harsh winter of escalating utility bills Erie County residents over the age of 50 have had enough. He says they’re calling on elected officials to pass the bill before the end of this legislative session, June 19th

“Right now when the utility company wants to raise our rates they go to the Public Service Commission and they say this is what we would like. There is no entity. There is no one who has power or strength to actually represent consumers at that table. So, what we want is this entity that could be there to look for manipulations in the market. They could represent consumers, but they also theoretically sue and bring legal action on behalf of consumers on this issue,” said Armbruster.

Armbruster says New Yorkers pay the highest average residential electric rates in the nation and is the only state that does not have a consumer watchdog. Brian Bors from Lockport says he believes it’s crucial that somebody be at the table representing the average person.

Credit Ashley Hirtzel / WBFO
AARP members meet with local senior citizens.

“I’ve done everything I could possibly do. I’ve cut my energy use over the past 8 or 10 years in half, but my bills keep increasing. So, something has to be done about this. I can understand why a lot of seniors are having a problem paying these bills. I know seniors who are paying $350 to $400 a month to heat their apartments because they’re not well constructed, but they can’t afford to go anywhere else. It’s a real problem,” said Bors.

AARP members are asking local residents to contact their elected officials and urge the bill’s passage. The proposal passed in the New York State Assembly and is now looking for passage in the Senate.